By the time Toon got the first cut for the temp dub, at least 50 percent of the sound effects had already been assembled and cut to animatics. "Some sounds were done from our imagination because we only had bluescreen and Kerry describing the environment," he points out. "When we saw the visual effects, sometimes things really worked, sometimes they needed something extra or were too busy. But the overall quality was very close to what we wanted."
Toon believes his early involvement was "the only way to do a show this size with this volume of material. Everything hinged on me having the prep time to get as much done in advance as possible. Once things started moving [with the production] I had to take off my sound designer hat and put on my supervisor hat, dealing with problem solving and time and crew management, and that saps you creatively. That's why you want the heavy lifting done early."
The mix was done at Disney's main theater with Terry Porter and Dean Zupancic, who maintained a delicate balance among dialogue, sound effects and Ed Shearmur's score. Producer Jon Avnet worked closely with the mixers during the final dub. "Jon's a hands-on producer who loves the dub stage and used his many years of experience to guide Kerry through the mix process," Toon points out.
Animated features always pose unique challenges for all concerned with their long gestation period and ability to bridge fantasy and reality. Richard Anderson of Technicolor Sound Services Hollywood (www.technicolor.com/), who served as supervising sound editor for DreamWorks' new animated feature, Shark Tale, began work last January, diving fulltime into the project during the spring.
Shark Tale tells the story of Oscar, a fast-talking little fish who dreams big. His dreams land him in hot water when he tells a great white lie that turns him into an unlikely hero.
"Unlike the more realistic Finding Nemo, this is an interpretation of big-city human society in an underwater realm," says Anderson. Early on it was decided not to process the voices of the fish and the sharks to make them echo-y or muffled. "It would drive you nuts over the course of the movie, so we assume you're hearing the voices adapted to their environment," he explains.
Anderson teamed with Wade Wilson and Mark Binder on sound design. Because the sharks inhabit a sunken ship, they could use metallic sounds in depicting the sharks' environment. The fish, on the other hand, are surrounded by organic matter like coral, kelp and other vegetation. "The fish also have a lot of things - like dumpsters, mail boxes - which are normally made of metal but are made out of shells. For them, we tried to combine organic sounds with elements of the sounds we're used to hearing so they'd ring true with the audience," Anderson notes.
The movie's directors decided to steer clear of "the splishy-splashy sounds" associated with the surface, Anderson says. "We tried to keep to the low end deeper in the water - it's rumbly, heavier, more water is bearing down. Closer to the surface things are lighter and airier. As we premixed the background, there are changes of depth within scenes, and we made those variations." Binder also processed the sound of dolphins and whales so they'd sound somewhat like traffic.
Anderson selected many sounds from Technicolor's own library, cutting them on Pro Tools V.5. He and his team also recorded new raw material. Wilson hung up a curtain of kelp from the beach and recorded movement through it for undulations in the current and the fishes' impact on it. The team used leaves to create seaweed paper that didn't have the crispness of real paper and captured the bubbling of a big aquarium tank. "We created a buffet of sounds but, as they start the final dub, we don't know what will make it into the final mix," Anderson points out.
The mix will be done at 20th Century Fox on the Howard Hawkes Stage by Andy Nelson and Anna Behlmer. Shark Tale is slated for release October 1.
SERVICING THE INDIE
It's becoming routine for Atlanta's Crawford Communications (www.crawford.com/) to have an indie feature in-house. "It used to be that filmmakers would come with budgets so low that we knew we couldn't give them a return in line with the costs of even a moderate-sized theatrical run," says director of audio Steve Davis. "But with digital technology producing fairly cost-effective film prints, the ability to get theatrical runs on digital media and people looking only at video distribution - not to mention increased competition in the marketplace - we're more open to these smaller films."
Many indie features are "story and character-driven" and require "less of a full-court press" than a full-blown Hollywood film, Davis notes. Nevertheless Crawford can help indie filmmakers prepare for distribution with its own extensive palette of services and by arranging for film record outs, up-rez or Dolby theatrical encoding. "We want to make sure the last technical mile is done correctly," he says.
Indie filmmakers often "want to do as much audio as possible in the offline, and with Final Cut or Avid you can do quite a bit," says Davis. "You can take dialogue in the form of an OMF, predub, level it out, fix it if necessary. Or filmmakers can come to us for a full spotting session: sound design, ADR, Foley."
Producer/director Ray Culpepper, of Atlanta-based A-Town Filmworks, took his second feature Big Ain't Bad to Crawford to prepare for a limited theatrical release last April at area Regal Cinemas, Magic Johnson Theatres (Loew's Cineplex) and a few independent chains. The romantic comedy is due for a national college tour this fall, has a deal with cable's Starz! channel in December and will be released on video next February.
"Audio is very crucial to the success of a film," says Culpepper, whose picture had about a half-million-dollar budget. "I see a lot of screenings at festivals, and if the sound isn't good, it's a turn off. We wanted the best quality sound we could get for theatrical release, and Crawford did a great job of bringing all the elements together for us."
Culpepper had dialogue and basic sound effects done by Riot Atlanta, where he had worked before, then came to Crawford to fine tune the dialogue predub, sound effects stem and music, add more ambiance's and smooth transitions.
"Mixer Greg Crawford took the OMF from Riot into Pro Tools|HD in Audio A where we have an SSL Avant post production console and did the surround mix through the printing to TASCAM DA-88 with timecode matching the film rolls," Davis explains. "He also tuned up the sound design for surround."
Crawford sent the audio of Big Ain't Bad to Magno in New York, where a Dolby consultant supervised the theatrical audio print master. The video masters went to Heavy Light Digital to scan back to film for the theatrical answer print.
Crawford has two HD features, from filmmakers in Nashville and Chicago, on tap for the fall.
Independent filmmakers may realize the importance of audio post production but little budget may remain at that stage. Phil Crescenzo, who heads Oak Park, CA's Extreme Measures (www.extreme-measures.com/), found an unusual way to help director Mark Norberg complete audio post for his first feature, the psychological thriller The Heat Chamber.
While Crescenzo was creating 50 to 60 visual effects shots, including full CG sequences, for the film, he shepherded the director through the audio post process in one of Extreme Measures' rooms.
The Heat Chamber had been shot with a Canon XL-1S with a P&S Teknik Mini 35 adapter and sound recorded separately on DAT. Norberg had cut the film on an old Avid over the course of a year, then went to Crescenzo for visual effects and the conform by Crescenzo's son Casey. At that point, "it would have broken the bank if I had to pay somebody to do the audio," Norberg notes. "Phil gave me the basics and let me go."
Extreme Measures has a Steinberg Nuendo suite with a custom-configured AMD PC, Yamaha O2R and a Frontier Designs Dakota card that communicates with the O2R via a Lightpipe ADAT connection. But since Norberg was not an audio professional, Crescenzo set him up with Apple Final Cut Pro.
"Mark had edited on such an old Avid that it couldn't capture his original DV footage and a lot of the audio was fairly distorted. So we recaptured the material to Final Cut and that helped a great deal," Crescenzo recalls. "Rather than have Mark learn Nuendo, we felt he could learn Final Cut, which has a smaller, basic audio toolset. It wasn't as slick as doing audio on a lot of other nonlinear systems, but once he got going he was able to create 24 tracks of audio that worked pretty well for his film." The process wasn't without hitches: Leo Wong, under Crescenzo's supervision, had to use an Avid Media Composer V.10.6 as an intermediary to get OMF files from the Media Composer V.6 to Final Cut.
Tapping Crescenzo's extensive sound effects libraries - Hollywood Edge was a favorite - Norberg placed and tweaked sounds ranging from a complex car crash sequence to simple kitchen plate clinks and doorknob turns. He brought in original music and ADR exported from Nuendo.
"It was a real education going through the entire post production process with Phil," says Norberg, who achieved more polished final sound than he expected. "I had 24 tracks of sound at any given time and in several sequences, like the crash, I was using them all. I could keep adding layers of effects almost like an musical endeavor."
Crescenzo believes other indie filmmakers can take a similar route. "Get a professional to talk you through and you can accomplish a lot yourself."